VCA Animal Hospitals
A few years ago, VCA approached Designory about creating a new website. Today, they are still a growing client, with Designory managing all website work, SEO, social and a number of specialty sites and digital initiatives. This is a somewhat unusual case study for a creative director to feature, but then I suppose I'm a somewhat unusual creative director. Let's just say VCA appeals to my strategic/business side.
From a creative perspective, the VCA story is less about creating beautiful, innovative designs, and more about working successfully within significant creative constraints. I'm a big fan of Bill Bernbach, the "B" in DDB, and an iconic advertising creative. He once said, "I wouldn't hesitate for a second to choose the plain looking ad that is alive and vital and meaningful, over the ad that is beautiful but dumb." So it is with VCA.
VCA is a network of more than 600 veterinary hospitals in 42 states and Canada, all acquired, not created. Some are large, gleaming clinics with many doctors and specialists and the latest in high-tech equipment. Others might consist of a vet, an assistant and someone working the front desk. Even at its most sophisticated, this can be an environment with 10 year-old PCs, slow internet and very busy fax machines. As for a consistent brand experience...that can be hard to come by.
From a brand and marketing perspective, VCA has to walk a delicate line. Every pet owner's relationship with his or her vet is very personal, and very local...just like your kid's pediatrician. Just as in human healthcare, being part of a large corporate network is often seen as a negative for a vet, suggesting red tape, impersonal service and lower quality care. VCA's goal is of course to promote the benefits, such as depth of resources and access to specialists, and minimize the negatives.
In redesigning the VCA site, this meant we needed to find a middle ground between hokey and slick. Something simple and professional, but not so sophisticated as to look like a truly big company. There was really no existing infrastructure, so that had to be created from scratch. Localization and personalization being so important, parts of each hospital's site needed to be managed locally, but blend seamlessly with "national" content managed by corporate. With over 600 hospitals, and more added all the time, the site had to be based on a set of very predictable templates managed within an idiot-proof CMS. Oh, and the look needed to be pretty much visually neutral, as the brand identity was being overhauled at the same time. And the site would launch first. And it needed to happen fast. Easy right?
At this point, we would normally have been tempted to do some good research with both consumers and hospitals. The client, however, had neither the budget nor time, and also suspected that the brand perceptions across the network were so wildly different that we were better off just jumping right in. The solution was to quickly show the client broad spectrum of visual solutions, from "homey" to "sophisticated", pointing out the pros and cons of each. This got us quickly to a design framework that felt right for this big first step.
The whole system was deployed with great success. Since then, quite a bit of additional content and functionality has been worked in; it's probably about time for an overhaul. Next time around, there will no doubt be more room to push the envelope a bit, both visually and functionally. What was important in this first iteration was getting a solid solution designed and built, not arguing with the client about "missed opportunities" for for design and research. For me, this represents the difference between a project and a partnership. Too often, agencies want to jump from a 1 to a 10 in one step, and pout if they can't get their way. Keep pitching 10s, but don't give up when they buy a 4. Keep educating, not complaining. Next time, they might buy a 6. Then an 8. That's what partnership is.
Typical hospital site
The backbone of the VCA online system. A highly templated system that merges locally and nationally managed content, as well as allowing for widely varying levels of content.
Consumer communications are just a small part of the overall VCA platform. Targeted campaigns to veterinary students, as well as practicing vets are also in the mix. This promotional piece for vet students reflects the more contemporary,colorful vibe of the current graphic standards. Unfortunately, this look has yet to make its way into the dotcom.
A specialized site allowing pet owners to manage their pets' individual health records, appointments and medications in detail.
A typical VCA Facebook contest
Not surprisingly, VCA has a significant social presence.